Players like CB Aqib Talib, the Bucs' first-round pick last spring, start to emerge at the top of the draft board at this time of the year
As of Monday, there were 68 days remaining before the start of the 2009 NFL Draft, or a bit over 1,600 hours to go.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' scouting department will eventually use an obscenely large portion of those 1,600 hours on preparations for that very event, some of them at the NFL Scouting Combine later this week.
Most recently, Director of College Scouting Dennis Hickey has had his staff holed up in a meeting room for essentially all the available business hours (and often beyond) of the last three or four weeks. After the combine, there will be dozens of Pro Day visits – each school holds its own showcase workouts for top players, most of them in March – and several more rounds of meetings. The goal is to put in all the hard work now so that the decisions come easily on the two critical days of the draft.
Head Coach Raheem Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik sit in on most of the draft meetings, too. The Buccaneers believe the more input the better, and the draft meetings currently taking place are filled with give-and-take. These aren't silent rooms with 20 men running individual video machines; this is a seemingly endless loop of discussions on hundreds and hundreds of possible future Buccaneers.
"What we're doing now is we're just going down the prospects, we're reading reports," said Hickey. "The reports are done off [what is seen on] tape. We want to make sure we emphasize we're evaluating what they've done on tape, on the football field. In addition to that, we're also talking about injuries, talking about statistics.
"But most of it is reading reports, and also going over character, just talking through them. Obviously, there are going to be differing opinions about the guy's makeup as well as the prospect himself, the evaluation. So what we're doing now, we're just talking through those guys. We're trying to be as critical as we can at this juncture because we want to know everything about the guy. Then at the end we'll watch a cut-up of the guy, maybe his all-star games where we can kind of hone in on him a little bit visually."
In some way or another, the Buccaneers will do this for 2,300 prospects, the initial pool of players the team plans to evaluate at the beginning of a college football season. That group will be whittle down considerably – only 252 players will actually be drafted in April, though dozens more will sign afterwards as free agents – and then ranked within their positions and across the board as a whole.
That board is a familiar image associated with the draft, with its columns of names stacked on the surface with magnetic cards. Teams generally list the positions across the top of the board and then have descending numerical grade levels going down the board. The Buccaneers' board is just starting to take shape during these February meetings. Eventually, a handful of names will separate themselves along the stop strata of that board, as happened with Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib last year. The Bucs selected Talib with their first-round pick in the 2008 draft, making him the 20th player taken overall.
"We come to a point where we line them up and kind of stack guys initially, kind of a starting point," said Hickey. "Coach Morris and Mark are also in there and we answer any questions they may have. I have a little more knowledge of the individual players; I've written reports on all these guys. They may have some other questions so we just kind of talk through guys and come to an initial point at this juncture."
Each player in which the Buccaneers have interest is scouted on tape by Hickey, by National Scout Jim Abrams, by the area scout that covers the player's school and by another area scout as a cross-checking method. That takes a lot of time, of course, and Hickey admits that if the draft was in late June instead of late May he and his staff would probably use every available hour of the extra two months.
But the draft date is set, and it's rapidly approaching. That means there's no time to waste.
"At some point, the draft comes," said Hickey. "With our business, there are always more guys to uncover, more rocks to look under. You do as much as you can, but you do at some point have to start funneling towards your targeted guys. But we keep going all the way up to it. We're always looking for different ways to analyze guys – talking with more players, interviewing them, watching more film. You can never get enough."